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69 years ago: Remembering the deadly Coniston bus crash

On Feb. 9, 1951, a bus carrying Inco workers home from the Coniston smelter and a CPR train collided in dense fog, killing nine people and sending 21 to hospital

Today marks the anniversary of a deadly day in Coniston.

Feb. 9, 1951 was a bitterly cold one, so cold a thick ice fog hovered over the small community east of Sudbury. The temperature was -44 and that dense fog made visibility extremely poor. 

A bus was ferrying 43 Inco workers home after the night shift at the Coniston smelter, many of whom decided to take the bus that day rather than walk in the intense cold of a Northern Ontario winter's day. 

Bus driver Edward Carriere described the scene to reporters after the crash.

"I didn't see or hear the train," he said, describing how he stopped at the crossing as usual and even opened the door to look down the tracks.

"You couldn't see a damned thing. The frost fog was as thick as molasses. I didn't hear any train whistle so I closed the door and moved on. Then it came — a terrible crash. The train caught the rear corner of the bus and swung around ... into a snowbank."

From the Coniston Historical Society Facebook page: “The outside air was hazy and visibility was poor. Because of the extreme cold, more passengers than usual were crowded into the bus. Its windows were frosted; external sounds were muffled by the din of conversation within the bus. Nobody heard, saw or suspected the west-bound CPR train, which was running late." 

The train was the CPR "Montreal to Vancouver flyer" as described by newspapers at the time, and it was just getting up to speed when it slammed into the bus.

“The train arrived at the crossing just as the bus was straddling the tracks. The terrible crash resulted in nine deaths and many injuries to others. The men who were killed were all from the same shift in the smelter. All those who died were citizens of Coniston. The whole town was in a state of shock, but the response to the grieving families was prompt and generous.”

Bus driver Carriere, 21 years old at the time, was charged with manslaughter, but was later acquitted of those charges.

No one on the train was injured, but of the 43 people on the bus, only 12 escaped unharmed.

Sudburian Tony Sottile wrote a letter to last year regarding the anniversary. An 11-year-old at the time, Sottile said he'll never forget what he saw that day. 

"My sisters suddenly ran in the house to declare that there had been a bad accident," he wrote. "My father got up and ran out the door, my brothers and myself getting ready for school, also ran out after him.

"The sight we experienced will never be forgotten — bodies strewn all over the snowy ground, it was an image that an 11-year-old me will never forget. The funeral, at Our Lady of Mercy Church, will always be remembered, as across the front of the Church there were five open caskets for the parishioners to pray for.

"It was an image that has been ingrained in my memory forever."

***Please note this article was first published in 2019.


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